Who is Qandeel Baloch: Almost six years after her murder, Pakistani influencer Qandeel Baloch's brother was acquitted this week, as per reports. Muhammad Waseem, who had appeared on camera back then to take accountability for her honour killing, will walk free now. The order by the Multan court that pronounced the judgment is yet to be made public.
Baloch, 26, was noted for her 'bold' and norm-breaking social media posts that sparked wide debate in Pakistan's patriarchal society.
She became one of the most popular internet celebrities in the South Asian region after a video of her appearance in reality show Pakistan Idol went viral in 2013. Baloch was also a commentator on issues related to women and voiced her support in favour of gender empowerment.
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On July 15, 2016, Baloch was drugged and strangled by her brother Waseem while asleep at her parents' home in Pakistan. An FIR was filed against Waseem and another brother, both of whom were allegedly involved in the murder. Baloch's father stood with her in death, calling her "brave" and demanding action against his sons.
Waseem was arrested the same month and admitted to killing his sister, claiming she was bringing dishonour to the family. He pleaded not guilty in court and was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2019. Baloch's father has since died and her mother reportedly claimed she was ready to forgive her son.
Baloch's death had evoked strong reactions from the global community when it was reported, including from top celebrities Madonna and Miley Cyrus.
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The incident pushed in a landmark ruling in Pakistan that amended the law that allowed honour killing convicted family members to be pardoned. However, the legislation still has a loophole open with the definition of the crime as one of honour left to the judge's discretion.
Waseem's reported acquittal has triggered backlash from Pakistani women activists.
"This man who confessed of killing Qandeel, his own sister, is a free man today in the same country where Qandeel couldn’t live her life freely & was honor killed for the choices she made as a free citizen of this country," lawyer Nighat Dad tweeted Monday.
Author Bina Shah asked, "Why did the state of Pakistan acquit Qandeel Baloch's murderer when the law was amended so that no compromise between the families would result in the release of a murderer in an honor killing?"
Actor Osman Khalid Butt wrote, "Six years - and an anti-honor killing Bill - later, we're back to square one... Why do these loopholes still exist in our judicial system whereby murderers can eventually walk free?"